Hussey breaks out of his rut
Ricky Ponting knew from the moment he spotted Michael Hussey on the final morning he was in the mood to break out of an extended form slump. Hussey's goals were to save his team and, possibly, his place in the Test side. While the first dream scenario didn't eventuate, he did score his first century in 29 innings.
Four years ago it was Matthew Hayden who saved his spot at The Oval after a wretched series, but both men's revivals could not stop a numbing series defeat. In the end Hussey's 121 only delayed the loss, cutting it to 197 runs, but it was the one bright spot as Australia conduct their post mortem.
"You could see in his eyes this morning that he was really up for the challenge," Ponting said. "It's been a while since he made a hundred and he's probably felt that more than anyone else. It was great to see him stand up and make that hundred in difficult conditions when the team needed him most, and when he needed it most. It would have been a really satisfying innings, it was great for us."
Until this display Hussey had only two half-centuries for the contest along with a string of failures that weakened his hold in the team. The Australians kept the faith and watched Hussey score his 10th hundred, relived to know he would be staying with them for a bit longer.
In partnership with Ponting he gave Australia some hope that they would get close to the other-world figure of 546 for victory, but the middle order tumbled in a couple of run-outs. Hussey was last out, starting England's party with a bat-pad catch off Graeme Swann.
"He played beautifully today, exceptionally," Ponting said. "It was good fun to be out there and share a partnership ... He showed today just how much of a class player he is."
Most of Hussey's problems have occurred with him not being able to sense the placement of his off stump. He knew today, leaving well and pushing forward or back. Seeing him purr on the tricky surface made it hard to believe he had been in a rut for almost a year.
There were awkward moments from the offspin of Swann, who had him dropped twice, and the sharp Steve Harmison, who troubled him with some short deliveries late in the day. When the cloud of defeat disperses, Hussey will recall happily the string of pull shots he sent to the boundary and his driving through the offside.
A crisp cut off Stuart Broad took him to 98 and he followed with a two to cover to bring up three figures. It was a sombre celebration, but a satisfying one, and he looked to the sky with one of his bat raises.
Four years ago Hayden followed his century at The Oval with three more hundreds in a row to signal the start of the next phase in his life of domination. A similar streak would help Hussey convince himself that he is capable of remaining a prolific force on the international scene.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo